Christianity 201

November 17, 2013

Jesus According to James

The Voice BibleDavid Capes is a leading writing and scholar for The Voice Bible project. He wrote this article at HearTheVoice.com, the official blog for The Voice, where it appeared under the title, Who Does James Say Jesus Is?

I have the privilege of teaching with Dr. Peter Davids at HBU.  Peter is a world class scholar who has devoted much of his writing and research to the Catholic or General Letters.  Peter assisted with us in the theological review of many NT books for The Voice project.  I asked him recently about the portrait of Jesus in the letter of James.

According to James, Jesus is the exalted and glorious Lord who now reigns and will come again to judge the living and the dead.  James is not a Gospel, so there is no narrative of Jesus’ life and death.  Yet James draws heavily on the example and teaching of Jesus.

While modern Christians may be focused on the afterlife, James is fixed on this life and what faith in Jesus means now.  His readers claim to be following Jesus; well, are they really?  James is a teaching letter and his ethics appear close to what we find in Matthew, particularly the Sermon on the Mount.

There are no direct quotations of Jesus’ teaching in James, the closest we come to that is James 5:12 (similar to Matthew 5:35-37):

12 It is even more important, my brothers and sisters, that you remember not to make a vow by the heavens or the earth or by anything. When you say “yes,” it should always mean “yes,” and “no” should always mean “no.” If you can keep your word, you will avoid judgment.

John Kloppenberg has made the case that James makes use of aemulatio, a rhetorical form where James takes a teaching of Jesus and conforms it to his setting. In other words, James reworks Jesus’ teaching to fit the current situation of the diaspora churches he is addressing.

So James is not all that different than what we find in the rest of the NT.  Jesus is coming again as judge.  Are you obeying him now?  James’ emphasis on Jesus’ future coming implies that their present sufferings are not without meaning; so, be patient and don’t take matters into your own hands.  Trust the judge to settle all scores.

But if James were the only account we had of Jesus’ life, we wouldn’t know much about his past.  The Church would celebrate his coming and his ascension to the right hand of the Father.  With no account of his birth, however, we would probably not celebrate Christmas.  There would be more emphasis on calling people to obedience to Jesus now.  The Church’s mission could be summed up this way: calling people to Jesus as Lord and living in the hope of his coming.

With James as our guide, the church probably would not have developed the kind of hierarchy we see in some churches.  Yet James does speak as a patriarch of sorts, a central authority writing from the mother church in Jerusalem and instructing scattered Christian communities in the tense times they found themselves in.

According to tradition, James was a member of Jesus’ family, but the letter never makes the explicit claim.  Still it must have meant something in the early Jewish-Christian communities to have been part of the family of Jesus. Later generations may de-emphasize that fact and privilege Paul and Peter over members of Jesus family.   Still it must have been “a big deal” to have had been related to Jesus.

Dr. Davids said that Paul is often misread over against James.  But if pressed, James would have agreed with Romans 10:9-10:

So if you believe deep in your heart that God raised Jesus from the pit of death and if you voice your allegiance by confessing the truth that “Jesus is Lord,” then you will be saved! 10 Belief begins in the heart and leads to a life that’s right with God; confession departs from our lips and brings eternal salvation.

For James, however, saving faith is faith that goes to work for the poor, faith that obeys the risen Lord, and faith that seeks wisdom from above.  So for James—as a follower of Jesus—salvation results not only a secure future with God but ethical behavior before God.

August 4, 2012

Does the New Testament Refer to Jesus as God?

Wow! I feel like I walked in on some larger discussion, and yet I felt compelled to share this here with C201 readers.  The blogger is Bobby Valentine and the blog is called Stoned-Campbell Disciple. (I searched the phrase and I have no idea; but the blog post is viable so we’re including it today.) I’ll run an update when I’ve got that part figured out.  Here’s the link if you want to go direct; I’m also planning to include this writer’s work at Thinking Out Loud in the future. Some of this may be over your head, but I hope you feel drawn into the subject as I was.

This post has a very limited goal.  I do not intend to settle all questions that have been discussed by the Church down through the years.  I do not intend to discuss the great Creeds of the Church that confess that Jesus is “true God of true God.”  I intend to examine only texts that call or seem to call (directly) Jesus “God.”  This, however, is not the total picture of the NT when it comes to the “deity” of Jesus — that would demand a much more comprehensive article.  But I thought it worth the effort to put this post together.

A COUPLE TEXTS THAT IMPLY JESUS WAS GOD

1) Acts 20.28: “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers to feed the church of God which He obtained with his own blood.”

The crucial words are ten ekklesian tou theou hen periepoiesato dia tou haimatos tou idiou.  There are two problems with this text being “conclusive” in calling Jesus “God.”  One concerns a textual varient and the other concerns a grammatical matter.  1) “Church of God” is the best attested reading — and is likely the original reading.  However, the variant reads “the church of the Lord” which is attested to by A, D, and late/minor versions.  According to the rules of textual criticism we go with the more difficult reading.  “Church of God” is not only more difficult, it also better attested and is regarded as original by most scholars.  2) It is possible that theos refers to the Father and idios refers to the Son.  This is not likely — but it must be acknowledged as a “possibility.”  Alexander Campbell in his Living Oracles opted for “church of the Lord” on the basis of the textual evidence in his day – he was driven by textual evidence and not dogmatic concerns.

But in my opinion Acts 20.28 likely refers to Jesus as “God” but it is not beyond challenge.  Not a good challenge — but a possible one.

2) John 1.18: “No one has ever seen God; it is God the only Son, ever at the Father’s side, who has revealed Him.” (NIV)

That John 1.18 truly calls Jesus “God” has gained in scholarly support by the discovery of Bodmer papyri which dates to around 200 A.D.  There are two major possibilities because of the textual witness.  1) [ho] monogenes theos, “God the Only Son” or as some mistranslate it as “only-begotten” God” (as in the KJV).  This is the strongest reading.  It is supported by the best Greek manuscripts (including Bodmer), it is attested in the Syriac, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.  Because of the dates of ! most
of these witnesses it cannot be claimed the text was altered in the face of the Arian heresy.  2) mongenes huios, “the Son, the only one.”  This reading is supported by the Old Latin and Curetonian Syriac and later Greek mss.  A poorly attested to reading and not likely original.

In my opinion it is difficult to deny that John 1.18 calls Jesus “God.”

3) Titus 2.13 “awaiting our blessed hope and the appearance of the glory of (the) great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”  The crucial phrase is “epiphaneian tes doxes megalou theou kai soteros hemon Iesou Christou.”   The “problem” with this text is not textual, rather there is a question of syntax.  The most obvious meaning of the Greek is offered in my rendering above. It implies that the passage is speaking of only one epiphany, that is of Jesus Christ.  This agrees with other references to the epiphany of Jesus Christ in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 6.14-15; 2 Tim. 4.1).  That “Savior” is applied to Christ rather than the Father is suggested by the next verse of Titus (2.14) which speaks of the redemption brought forth by Jesus.  The other interpretation of this text, one that seems forced (but it is a possibility) is that Paul refers to God (the Father) and then the Savior (Jesus Christ).

Scholars like Raymond Brown and Oscar Cullman take the interpretation I have offered.  I am convinced that this text calls Jesus “God.”

There are other texts that imply Jesus is God (i.e. 2 Pet. 1.1) but I want to move on to those . . .

TEXTS THAT CLEARLY CALL JESUS “GOD”

There are many texts that imply Jesus is divine but I have limited myself to the usage of the word “theos“.

1) Hebrews 1.8-9: The author says that God has spoken of Jesus his Son in the words of Ps. 45.6-7 “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever  . . .”  The psalm is cited according to the LXX and not the Hebrew text (an important point in this text, btw).  The question to determine is whether “ho theos” is a nominative or a vocative.  A few scholars have suggested that this is a nominative (like Westcott) and suggest this interpretation of the text, “God is your throne forevever and ever.”  This, in the words of Raymond Brown, is “most unlikely.”  In fact that interpretation makes no sense.  The vast majority of scholars see this as a vocative, “O God.”  Cullmann says, “Hebrews unequivocally applies the title ‘God’ to Jesus” (Christology of the NT, p. 310).  There can be little doubt that Cullmann is correct.

2) John 1.1: “In the beginning was the Word;
and the Word was in God’s presence,
and the Word was God.”

The crucial words of the second and third lines are kai ho logos en pros ton theon kai theos en ho logos.  The only debate regarding this text is that “theos” is used without the article. However, the lack of the article is fairly simple in light of grammar rules for predicate nouns.  There can be little — indeed no doubt — that John 1.1 calls Jesus “God.”

3) John 20.28: “My Lord and my God.” This text is clear and unambiguous.  This is the clearest example of the use of “theos” for Jesus.  Here Jesus is addressed as “God” (ho theos mou), with the articular nominative serving as a vocative.  Some have suggested, perhaps correctly, this confession arose in response to Domitian’s claim to the title dominus et deus noster.

In the final analysis it is clear that the NT does in fact call Jesus “God.”  As I stated at the beginning this is only the tip of the iceberg of how the NT presents the divinity of Jesus.  But we must also embrace the other side of the NT teaching — Jesus was also human. He was God and Man together.  I happen to think Nicea comes pretty close to capturing the complete vision of the NT teaching.

What is most amazing is that all of these texts were written by Jewish monotheists. Further these texts do not all stem from Pauline texts (the assumption that Paul somehow perverted the belief of early disciples but that only begs the question of how Paul came to believe that Jesus was somehow included in the definition of “God” too!!). Some how we modern disciples need to embrace the total message of the New Testament regarding this one we call the Christ.  He was, and IS, both mysteriously and completely (no fudging) Human and Divine.